At its most dramatic point, Taroko Gorge narrows to a defile that turns the sky into little more than a sliver of blue © ThePonAek, Shutterstock
Deservedly one of Taiwan’s leading tourist destinations, Taroko Gorge is a true, not-to-be-missed geological spectacular.
Deservedly one of Taiwan’s leading tourist destinations, Taroko Gorge is a true, not-to-be-missed geological spectacular. Of the many eye-popping sights, the most dramatic is the stretch where the gorge narrows from a classic V-shaped valley to a defile that turns the sky into little more than a sliver of blue, hundreds of metres above visitors’ heads.
Tourists have been visiting the gorge since the 1930s, but only in meaningful numbers since the completion of the Central Cross-Island Highway in 1960. Most people spend their time gazing up at the clifftops or along the meandering Liwu River Valley. Yet the boulders that rest on the riverbed are also capable of making a strong impression, and not only because of their gargantuan dimensions. The Taroko area is synonymous with marble (quarrying used to be one of this region’s most important industries) but because of mineral impurities and an abundance of schists and gneiss, you’ll see rocks of pure white, dark grey, cream, silver, light brown and even soft shades of gold.
Visitor and tour-coach numbers peak in the middle of the afternoon so it’s best to make as early a start as possible. The good news is that there’s no bad time of year to come here. During summer the Liwu and its tributaries are full of vigour, but landslides sometimes close hiking trails or even the main road. The autumn can be very lovely indeed, and even in winter there are many dry, sunny days when a good number of the national park’s 144 bird species and 251 kinds of butterfly are active and visible. Springtime sees an abundance of flowers, including purple azaleas.
Hard-core mountaineers should consider Taroko National Park’s other attractions, such as Mount Nanhu (3,742m), Taiwan’s fifth-highest peak, or the notoriously dangerous Mount Qilai (3,605m). Permits must be obtained before you can climb either of these mountains.